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Every day we post 10 new Classical CD and DVD reviews. A free weekly summary is available by e-mail. MusicWeb is not a subscription site. To keep it free please purchase discs through our links.

  Classical Editor Rob Barnett    



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Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750)
Secular Cantatas
“ Schweigt stille, plaudert nicht” BWV 211 (c.1734) [24:47]
“ Mer hahn en neue Oberkeet”, BWV 212 (1742) [28:11]
“ Amore traditore”, BWV203 (c.1720) [13:14]
Amsterdam Baroque Orchestra and Choir/Ton Koopman
rec. Waalse Kerk, Amsterdam – 1995/1996
CHALLENGE CLASSICS CC72280 [65:30]
 

 

 

 

 

 

Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750)
Wedding Cantatas
“ Dem Gerechten muß das Licht”, BWV 195, (c.1730 / 1742-49) [17:25]
“ Der Herr denket an uns”, BWV 196, (c.1708/09) [10:52]
“ Gott ist uns’re Zuversicht”, BWV 197 (c.1736/37) [25:52]
“ Weichet nur, betrübte Schatten”, BWV 202 (<1730) [20:10]
Amsterdam Baroque Orchestra and Choir/Ton Koopman
rec. Waalse Kerk, Amsterdam – 1994 (BWV 196), 1996 (BWV 202), 2003 (BWV 195, 197)
CHALLENGE CLASSICS CC72284 [74:21]
 

 

 

 

Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750)
Cantatas for the Marian Feast
“ Wie schön leuchtet der Morgenstern”, BWV 1, (1725) [22:06]
“ Mit Fried und Freud ich fahr’ dahin”, BWV 125, (1725) [25:02]
“ Komm, du süße Todesstunde”, BWV 161 (c.1716 / 1736) [18:48]
Amsterdam Baroque Orchestra and Choir/Ton Koopman
rec. Waalse Kerk, Amsterdam – 1995 (BWV 161), 2001 (BWV 1), 2002 (BWV 125)
CHALLENGE CLASSICS CC72281 [66:04]

Experience Classicsonline

Imbuing the text of Bach’s secular cantatas with character can create many a delight that further distinguishes them from the sacred cantatas’ more somber tone. The disadvantage of successfully groaning lines like “…er brummt ja wie ein Zeidelbär” (“…he groans like a honey bear”) with a genuinely ugly tone is that they sound, well … ugly. Paul Agnew, in the opening recitative of the famous “Coffee Cantata” (Schweigt stille, plaudert nicht” BWV 211) goes for some sort of expressive realism and comes up with authentic unpleasantness. A very limited success, indeed – but fortunately passed by quickly enough to ignore.
 
Klaus Mertens and Anne Grimm meanwhile act the rest of this domestic ‘coffee vs. future husband’ drama out very nicely – and they remind me why I so loved this recording when it first came out in the mid-1990s as part of Ton Koopman’s complete Cantata series. Now re-issued at high mid-price, several famous couplings are available on single discs – including the Coffee- and Peasant Cantatas, the Marian Feast Cantatas, and four out of five Wedding Cantatas.
 
BWV 211, charming though it is and despite my early listener's allegiance to it, cannot compete with Helmut Rilling’s version for the singing alone. Christine Schäfer and Thomas Quasthoff are simply easier on the ears. And if it need be an original instrument recording, Masaaki Suzuki has equally fast tempos to offer and, though Mertens is preferable to Stephan Schreckenberger, an impeccably delightful soprano in the stupendous Carolyn Sampson.
 
BWV 212 – “Mer hahn en neue Oberkeet” – with Els Bongers and Mertens does not call better versions to mind: Mme. Bongers’ soprano is stylish and the playing fleet. Fleeter, indeed, than one might expect from a Peasant Cantata. Koopman’s harpsichord and Jaap ter Linden’s cello provide the expert support for Mertens in the short, three-movement “Amore traditore” BWV 203 that fills this disc out to a reasonably generous 65 minutes. Less generous – especially at that price – is the absence of a libretto, the on-line availability of which not being an adequate substitute.
 
A much better example of the great virtues of the Koopman Cantata Cycle - formerly Erato, now Challenge Classics - is the disc with the Wedding Cantatas. The Amsterdam Baroque Orchestra and Chorus get to shine and Johannette Zomer, Sandrine Piau, Annette Markert, James Gilchrist and, again, Mertens are a line-up that leaves nothing to desire in “Dem Gerechten muss das Licht” BWV 195. Like “Gott ist unsre Zuversicht” BWV 197, this cantata is split in Pre- and Post-Copulationem. Since the liner-notes are trimmed versions from Koopman’s and Christoph Wolff’s originals and don’t bother to explain, this might well give rise to humorous confusion: a Bach chorale, instead of a cigarette? Alas, "pre-" and "post-copulationem" is more likely indicative of which part is sung before and after the actual marriage pronunciation … and that kiss I imagine having been no less part of tradition then, than it is now.
 
Barbara Schlick and Guy de Mey (“Der Herr denket an uns” BWV 196 – its chorus appropriately one-voice-per-part), Bogna Bartosz (BWV 197) and Lisa Larsson (in the solo cantata “Weichet nur, betrübte Schatten” BWV 202) continue along the same high level with performances that only make me think of Bach, not alternative recordings. There is plenty heft and oomph in the choruses while all the drive expected from HIP recordings is retained. Or try listen to Marcel Ponseele’s oboe part in BWV 202 without closing your eyes enraptured. For a disc of Wedding Cantatas - only BWV 210 is not included among the complete extant Wedding Cantatas - this makes a very fine choice. As an introduction to Koopman’s Bach it would be even more recommendable with more generous liner-notes or at a lower price.
 
The disc with Cantatas for Marian Feasts contains “Wie schön leuchtet der Morgenstern” BWV 1, “Mit Fried und Freud ich fahr dahin” BWV 125, and “Komm, du süße Todesstunde” BWV 161. Soprano Deborah York (1), altos Bogna Bartosz (125) and Elisabeth von Magnus (161), tenors Jörg Dürmüller (125) and Paul Agnew (1, 161), and of course Klaus Mertens (1, 125) offer singing at a high, if not exalted, level throughout. In BWV 1 Masaaki Suzuki (volume 34 of the Cantata Cycle on BIS) brings a greater sense of crispness and bloom and cleaner horns to the grand opening than does Koopman. I love Carolyn Sampson’s aria for Suzuki, but Mme. York’s voice, a more pointed instrument, has a very nice ring to it, too.
 
The tempos of both conductors are more or less similar, but wherever Suzuki takes a few seconds longer, I find his choice more convincing and Koopman ever so slightly rushed. Only notable in direct comparison, but notable all the same – not the least in the concluding chorale “Wie bin ich doch so herzlich froh”, where the orchestra and continuo harpsichord is weighed equally on the BIS recording but recessed and dominated by the Amsterdam Baroque Choir in Challenge Classics recording.
 
Suzuki’s volume 32 (see review) allows for comparison between his and Koopman’s BWV 125. The biggest difference here is the alto aria “Ich will auch mit gebroch’nen Augen” in which Koopman leaves mezzo/alto Bogna Bartosz much more time than the quicker Suzuki allows his counter-tenor Robin Blaze. Even if I liked Blaze’s voice more than I do, my choice would still be Bartosz here, just as I prefer the more nimble tenor-bass duet “Ein unbegreiflich Licht erfüllt” under Koopman.
 
Similar reasons might make Elisabeth von Magnus’s opening aria “Komm, süße Todesstunde” in BWV 161 more attractive than Michael Chance’s with the otherwise splendid Purcell Quartet recording (Chandos CHAN0742 - see review), while the large tenor aria (“Mein Verlangen is den Heilan zu umfangen”) is in good hands with either Michael Chance (Purcell) or Agnew (Koopman). Because this cantata is sparsely orchestrated, there is much less difference between the two contrasting HIP styles of the radical one-voice-per-part ("OVPP") Purcell Quartet (with minimal orchestral forces; four strings, two recorders and obbligato organ here) and Koopman’s, who is among the least dogmatic original instrument Bach conductors.
 
The difference is obvious again with the chorus and concluding chorale. Four voices for a chorus are not much to begin with – but for a chorale they are downright skimpy. As well as the voices of the singers on the Chandos recording blend, at least the chorale could have used a bit more heft. Koopman uses his small choir, seemingly unchanged, for both chorus and chorale and takes them at a much quicker clip. Altogether a satisfying disc, especially for anyone who hasn’t yet added these cantatas to their collection.
 
Jens F. Laurson
 

 


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